The seemingly constant threat posed to governments by terrorism is troublesome. The threat posed by so-called “homegrown terrorism,” which increased in prominence in Western countries after the London 7/7 bombings (7 July 2005), raised the stakes. Nothing brings the “why” question so sharply to the fore. Why would these young men turn against their fellow citizens with such deadly intent and force? The question looms large not just because of the potential harm to life, liberty, and property, but perhaps, even more, the damage done to our self-conception as safe and relatively harmonious societies (at least in terms of politically or ideologically inspired violence). In this regard, the arrest of the so-called “Toronto 18” in 2006 marked a watershed moment for Canadians. An attack on the core values and institutions of our society, by young people, who were either born or raised in Canada, seemed a strange and unsettling development.
There have been many noteworthy instances of “domestic” terrorism in Western societies. One need only think of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, or the bomb that brought down Air India Flight 182 just after it left Canada in 1985. These were the two deadliest acts of domestic terrorism in North America, prior to 9/11. To the extent that people were aware of these events, they were inclined to see them, however, as tragic exceptions, and to think of the perpetrators as rare, marginal, and unbalanced. After the Toronto 18 case, many Canadians realized they could no longer afford to adopt such an attitude.